The Robert Spiess Memorial
2017 Haiku Awards
As I began reading this year’s entries, I anticipated that the poems, through imagery, would allow me to experience my own “acceptance of the moment” as Robert Spiess described it in the following “Speculation" (Robert Spiess, A Year's Speculations on Haiku, Modern Haiku Press, 1995):
When haiku poets are truly stirred by a now-moment of awareness they respond with a simple, usually silent "Yes," not because they "understand," for that means the intellect is operating on the event-experience. This "Yes" is not one of considered approval but is prior to such an intellective judgment, it is an unqualified acceptance of the moment and its entities just as they are in their true nature at that particular and never to be repeated split second.
I was not disappointed. Outstanding and appealing in musicality, freshness, and depths of meaning, each of the winning haiku gave me a glimpse into the “never to be repeated split second.”
Ferris Gilli, Judge
First Place: Alan S. Bridges
an old song pours
from a Navajo toehold
The perfect juxtaposition of images in this haiku and the resulting implications create layers of meaning that take my breath away. Initially, in search of the poet’s “split second,” I enter the poem. Bright sun illuminates the exposed rock of a cliff. Looking closely, I see trails of hand and toeholds in the cliff face, small niches just right for resting birds. Scents of sage and hot sand float on a dry breeze—and something else—a canyon wren’s sweet, cascading notes, the song older than the lineage of Navajo ancients who climbed and sheltered here. Since those times, the world of the Navajo has changed forever ... and the wren sings on.
Second Place: Cherie Hunter Day
moths the color
of the dying pine
This vivid, elegantly concise haiku immediately evokes a mental picture and my appreciation for the poet’s insight. So much speaks to the poet in the moment, with no time to form words describing the experience; words come later. The poet knows that now is as it should be: here, the reminder that life goes on even as living entities die; the blended beauty of muted hues of nightfall and moths and pine; the calm acceptance of what is and what is to be.
Third Prize: John Barlow
the trunks of birch saplings
beginning to silver
One clear morning I walked a path among birches. I heard splashing from a nearby lake, birds, the scurrying of chipmunks. So lovely I found the peeling bark from older trees, I picked up a large piece to take home with me. This poet must have been enchanted with the frosted forest, the sounds of small lives, the creamy whites of old bark, and the young birches showing silver. Only an instant ... and a haiku that could have been written centuries ago, or only yesterday.
Honorable Mentions (unranked)
out of the subway entrance
a saxophone solo
Buskers have become commonplace in big cities. Mimes, magicians, poets, and musicians find places to work their talents where busy people congregate. How refreshing it must be in the midst of bustling humanity to hear a saxophone solo coming from belowground, when once it would have been strange indeed. Surely in this moment the poet is pleased, with a sense of “all rightness.”
last campout . . .
sandhill cranes call down
the northern lights
The first line implies autumn, which implies migration of the sandhill cranes to their wintering grounds. There is much to be found between the lines of this poem. I can see sparks from the campfire drifting upward in the night. Then into the camper’s consciousness, the wonderful, rattly yodels of the cranes, followed by the waves and ripples of the northern lights. If I were the camper, I might think, “A heavenly light show and cranes on the move; all’s right with the world.”
after the rain
in the fly's wings
As we are reminded by this finely focused poem, iridescence and rainbow colors are everywhere—from the sky to birds’ plumage, to soap bubbles and insects. Researchers recently discovered that the colors in flies’ wings are not random iridescence as once thought, but are constant, specific patterns indicating species and sex. Upon seeing the proof, they no doubt exclaimed in exuberance. I think this poet felt a quiet “Yes” with the glimpse of tiny rainbows.
out of the tomcat's ear . . .
Michele L. Harvey
Anyone who knows cats knows what “another notch” means: tomcats fighting for territory and mates. Female cats answering nature’s demands as cats have done for millions of years will soon be swollen and heavy with kittens. In nature, violence is often the prelude to procreation. It’s no surprise that a tomcat’s ear can remind us that spring has begun another cycle.
pulling the earth
back round a zinnia
his haiku immediately gives me a sense of Zen. I find that working in the garden with my fingers in the dirt nurturing plants pulls me into a meditative state. I begin to feel open to whatever calming influence or enlightenment awaits me. While gently tending a single flower, arranging the soil, the poet may have the perception of tending the earth itself, which nurtures the poet as well.
Ferris Gilli, judge
Billie Wilson, contest coordinator
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